Montana has a long tradition of listening to and respecting — revering — its writers and the state’s literary tradition. In an unprecedented show of unity, more than forty of Montana’s best writers have gathered, in rapid response fashion, to write original essays and testimonials advocating for the protection of our public lands, and endorsing Democratic House of Representatives candidate Rob Quist’s position on this (literally) most common ground of issues. Please vote on May 25.

A Priceless Right

Toby Thompson


The difference between accessing public rather than private land is the difference between wading a stream to reach a meadow and crossing a road to face a gate.

This has been brought home to me less in Montana, where free access to national forests is a right, than in New York where for years I lived near Central Park. To watch just a few of its 40 million annual visitors enter its woodsy environs is to watch a population reaching for, then grasping sanity. In contrast, 30 blocks south, at Gramercy Park—a two-acre private green with a locked iron gate—a frustrated citizenry stares through its fence at a few privileged New Yorkers taking the air in a landscaped Victorian garden.

In Montana that contrast is analogous to one between camping in the Gallatin National Forest and an RV lot near Billings. At Livingston, I can walk two blocks from my house to a highwater mark of the Yellowstone River, or drive six miles to a trailhead in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and approach something like sanity. That right is priceless.

Toby Thompson is the author of five nonfiction books. He teaches writing at Penn State University and lives part of each year in Livingston, Montana.